Forests are crucial to combating climate change — will Biden rise to the challenge?

Dead zone: Cutting down forests not only destroys wildlife habitat and removes valuable ecosystem services, but also releases their stored carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. (Photo credit: crustmania/Flickr)

Covering a third of the planet's land surface, forests are massive carbon sinks, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would contribute to global warming. Only the world's oceans store more carbon. Keeping forests intact has long been considered essential to maintaining a healthy planetary environment, but scientists are now beginning to understand just how critical they are in the fight against climate change.

A recent study conducted by a team of international researchers from several institutions, including NASA, the World Resources Institute, California Institute of Technology, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, integrated ground data and satellite imagery to map the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the world's forests. They found that between 2001 and 2019, the world's forests stored about twice as much carbon dioxide as they emitted. "[F]orests provide a 'carbon sink' that absorbs a net 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year, 1.5 times more carbon than the United States emits annually," write two of the report's authors, Nancy Harris and David Gibbs of the World Resources Institute. "Overall, the data show that keeping existing forests standing remains our best hope for maintaining the vast amount of carbon forests store and continuing the carbon sequestration that, if halted, will worsen the effects of climate change."

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
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